By the Beautiful Sea

Posted on 30 May 2009

Eight hours after leaving Castelnau, Marlene and I arrive at the fishing village of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Michael tells me that Van Gogh painted here. It is beautiful but too stinking hot and my only  concern is to find our hotel. We weave our way through town slowly. Modern caravans are everywhere, parked in clusters around the water and throughout the town’s narrow streets, sometimes taking two or three parking spots. Cars are tucked into every other available space – some legal, some not. A steady stream of pedestrians adds to the congestion.
We finally find our hotel and go to our respective rooms to freshen up. I had caught my usual flying cold and feel stuffed and lacking in energy but I cannot sit still. Here the sequence of events grows hazy.
We did wander through the town’s streets that first night and did stop to eat in one central restaurant. I had moules et frites (mussels and fries) and Marlene taurus (?) bull steak and fries, a regional dish. The waiters and waitresses literally ran from table to table to kitchen so maniacally, my head was spinning and I could not relax, but still I was excited to be in this gypsy haven. (Wished unkindly and unreasonably that so many tourists  had not found their way here.) 
The next morning, we enjoy a quiet breakfast in the hotel garden and walk the few blocks to the town’s chapel where I hope to catch some gypsy magic. Again we face crowds but there is music in the air and we stop to listen to “Karpatz” an ensemble – 8 beautiful dark men – who seduce us with their gypsy tunes. One woman spins through the audience, twirling a scarf around her head.  Marlene buys one of their CDs. (When I searched the internet for information about the group, I find that they are from Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania and “are all proud not to deny their Romani culture.”)
We visit the chapel and Saint Sara’s crypt (click on first picture) and then find a low stone wall in partial shade at the back of church to listen to a jazz duet. After a salad lunch, we return to our hotel to rest, before the procession of Saint Sarah. Thank the heavens, we had seen the statue earlier in the day, as it was impossible to see her facial features at our vantage point as she was carried – though elevated – through the crowds. Here I feel ignorant and sacrilegious. Sarah is a dark-skin-coloured doll with a tipsy crown wearing numerous sparkling fabric cloaks. I am intrigued by the devotion she inspires and yet know that she is a symbol of something that I can’t quite grasp. Still I am happy to have witnessed the event. 
The next day, the two saint Marys will have their procession to the water. Unfortunately my cold is still stealing my energy so we do not leave the hotel late evening to witness the reported roma music and dancing in the streets. 
Though we leave for home early the next day, Marlene and I are not unhappy to miss the bulls charging through the streets (the thought scares me) and have agreed that we will return another year. 

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